Word of the Week
December 3, 2022
Chara: Joy to the World
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
“Joy to the world!” Those are the lyrics we sing at Christmas, echoing the word of the angel who told the shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all people.”
We say, “Merry Christmas!” and the French say “Joyeux Noël.” Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy for all. Some people look for happiness at the malls; others drink egg nog or head for the ice skating rink. The air is filled with strains of Handel’s Messiah or “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”
I asked some friends what brings them joy at this time of year and they mentioned family gatherings, shared meals, cute kids, lighted trees, and festive decorations. We pour a lot of effort into pursuing happiness in December!
But not all view Christmas was a time of joy. Some grieve over the empty chair at the table, the broken relationships, the lost hopes. For them, the holiday season can be especially difficult.
You might wonder, Why am I not feeling the joy this year? What happened to the joy that the angel promised?
We may find some encouragement in an unlikely place: pondering the meaning of the Greek word that the Bible uses for joy.
Joy in Greek is the word chara (occurs 59 times) along with the matching verb chairō (74 times) which means “rejoice.” Any word that appears so frequently is worth examining, so let’s see what we can discover.
First, joy can simply be a formality. Just as we say, “Merry Christmas!” as merely a polite greeting, first century Greeks used chairō as the salutation at the beginning of a letter (Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1) or a way to say, “Hello”. When Gabriel appeared to Mary, his first word was chairō – “Greetings!” (Luke 1:28). The soldiers who beat Jesus mocked him with the same greeting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:3).
Second, the Greek word for joy can describe wicked people as well as good. The Jewish leaders were glad when Judas offered them a way to arrest Jesus unobtrusively (Mark 14:11). And Herod was very glad when the soldiers brought Jesus to see him, because he had hoped to watch Him do a miracle (Luke 23:8).
Third, however, we see that genuine joy is a prime feature of the Christian life.
- Joy is one part of the “fruit of the Spirit” that should characterize every believer (Galatians 5:22).
- Paul instructs us to “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
- He reinforces the command: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
This raises a question: Does God expect me to be perpetually smiling? When He tells me to always rejoice, does this leave any room for feelings of grief?
No, the normal Christian life involves moments of both grief and joy. In fact, both are a required part of the believer’s behavior: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The right kind of tears can be the best way to comfort someone.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy!” (John 16:20). There are times when grief is appropriate, especially in the face of something like the death of Christ. But grief is not permanent.
God doesn’t require us to go around with a perpetual grin plastered on our faces, but He does intend for us to learn how to return to joy. In the Upper Room, Jesus went on to describe the mother who undergoes the sharp pains of childbirth. Her anguish is genuine, but once the child is born, she is filled with joy (John 16:21).
Circumstances do affect our emotions, and the New Testament describes a shepherd who rejoices when he finds a lost sheep (Luke 15:5), a father who rejoices over the return of a wandering son (Luke 15:32), a eunuch who rejoices over his new-found faith (Acts 8:39), a girl who discovered Peter newly arrived from prison (Acts 12:14).
However, the Christian can always find a reason for joy, even in the midst of suffering.
- Paul was “overflowing with joy in all our affliction (2 Corinthians 7:4).
- The churches of Macedonia combined “a great ordeal of affliction” with “an abundance of joy” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
- The believers in Hebrews “accepted joyfully the seizure of your property” (Hebrews 10:34).
After all, we have the example of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
We can have an underlying joy that comes from God, rather than circumstances.
These things have I spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 11).
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
This rests on the ultimate joy promised in the future for us.
Keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (1 Peter 4:13).
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great (Matthew 5:12).
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
Skills for joyful living:
- Learn to return to joy promptly.
- Learn to receive joy gratefully.
- Learn to give joy to others regularly.
- Learn to anticipate future joy eagerly.
This is a big, important concept, one that has practical implications for all of us. It would be a wonderful project to go through the New Testament studying joy. Just use a concordance or Bible study Web site like BibleHub or Blue Letter Bible to get a list of all the references where “joy” or “rejoice” is used. Read each verse in its context and make a list of all the things that are causes of joy.
You can also do a comparison study of the word chara with last week’s word study on agalliaō. Both words mean “rejoice,” and sometimes they are both used in the same verse. You might think of chara as the kind of joy that simmers constantly, but there are times when it just can’t be contained – so it erupts into exultation – that’s agalliaō.
Q – How old was Jesus when He realized who He was?
A – Scripture doesn’t give many details about the childhood of Jesus, so we don’t know specifics. We do know that He had a deep awareness of His role as God’s Son at age 12, when he said, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). We know that He voluntarily limited Himself by becoming a human, so he would have gone through a normal growth process, both physically and intellectually. See Luke 2:40, 52. This would not involve any damage to His deity, though the details remain shrouded in mystery.
When the shepherds left the stable, they left a thoughtful Mary pondering the meaning of all that had happened on that first Christmas night. Next week we will ponder her pondering, using the Greek words that describe her thoughts. You’ll have food for your own meditation.
©Ezra Project 2022